Last year, a feeling crept up in me like dread until I could no longer ignore it: Twitter was making me dislike people.
Despite my job bringing down my estimation of humanity as a whole, I still tend to like people in the abstract, as a concept. The specificities of Twitter—the nuances of ego function it displayed, for example—became too much to bear. Stuff I read would get under my skin and stay there. Twitter feuds, especially, are always pointless; they’re performative clashes of ideologies that rarely do any actual convincing. At the very least, participating in them made me feel ashamed for caring as much as I did in the moment, and worse, for showing how much I cared. I like some of the things I tweeted, but I certainly stopped liking the impulse to fire off whatever mildly amusing or unique thought came into my head. Why was I doing that, anyway? Why was I tethered to this medium? For some waning dopamine spikes that came from likes and retweets? Reassurance that my opinion mattered? Or was it just because Twitter was a thing that people did, and I’m a person so ...yeah?
Things written by complete strangers or vague acquaintances bugged me with persistence, and then I started to bug myself for being so bugged. After a while, so much irritated me. There was people’s tendency to waste time by responding to a national tragedy with “No Words,” ie. the acknowledgement that it had happened at all. Or a similarly empty gesture—sharing a link, mourning a death, wondering, “Why, God, why?”—that seemed more driven by imagined crowd pressure than actual expression. I never enjoyed when a fellow writer boasted about their work with Kanye levels of bravado despite the fact that he or she...IS NOT KANYE. I despised the voicing of rage inspired by a willful misreading. I was always embarrassed by retweeted compliments that redundantly expressed to that person’s followers that he or she is worth listening to. Maybe the worst is when someone would place a period in front of an @-reply, thereby broadcasting some petty internet argument to at least one participants’ entire timeline, as though everyone should be aware that someone dared challenge them on a medium that fosters exactly that sort of thing.
Amassed petty irritations combined with rarer and rarer moments of enlightenment and joy led me to the point where I was using Twitter because I used Twitter.
The core problem with Twitter, given the limitations it imposes on its users, is that it promotes telling over showing. The best tweets manage to do both in 140 characters or less, and seem magical as a result. The rest are innocuous, at best. Telling and not showing is a cornerstone of bad writing. Twitter promotes bad writing. It allows false congeniality by way of the mute button, a tool of deception that suggests to another user that you are listening to him or her when you aren’t any longer, and are just following them out of some obligation. It’s hard to say if Twitter makes things matter more, or if it makes more things matter. Or maybe all of that is an illusion.
What a world! Evidence of badness and loathsome people is apparent enough without having to seek it out. Is it not? Checking Twitter regularly however many times a day that I did (25? 50? 100?), amounted to actively looking for the bad. I may have been using Twitter wrong, but at a certain point, using it at all seemed like the true mistake. So I stopped.
The downside of the democratization of communication is the abundance of mediocrity it creates. It does great things, too—at the end of 2015, I spoke to a bunch of trans-rights activists who explained that social media platforms like Twitter were key in correcting the misgendering that occurs so frequently and detrimentally in reports about trans violence. Without the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, would stars like Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, and Mark Ruffalo have spoken up about the Academy’s inherent racism? Possibly not. There’s a reason Black Lives Matter has become the rallying cry of contemporary activism. You can see online activism working—often it comes with a heaping side of ego, via tweeters who conflate building their brand with enacting social change, but it works.
It would be foolish to denounce Twitter entirely, as that would wage war against technology (technology will always win). Investing in it wholeheartedly and obsessively, however, seems just as foolish. I was invested it. More troubling than whatever stupid, banal, and/or petty shit I posted to Twitter was the way it was shaping my view of the world. “People think X,” I would find myself saying, based on empirical evidence from a site which only 23 percent of adults online use, one that exists to shave nuance from thought and promote oversized outrage. “People will be mad about this on Twitter,” is the absolute worst reaction to any event that occurs—take it from a person who’s had that thought more times than I can count.
My conception of Twitter once was that it was a tangible representation of the way things are. And yet, I think back to the hours of mine that piled up on the platform, sometimes in a single sitting, and all I see is an endlessly scrolling blur. Few distinct images exist in my head of using Twitter or even absorbing the fruits of the information it promises to impart. Twitter isn’t where I made memories. On the contrary, it’s a void that sucked up opportunity to form them. There’s nothing tangible about that.
Maybe I cared too much about what I saw on Twitter. Maybe I let the bad overtake the good, which is always a risk when observing human behavior. Certainly, I cared too much about Twitter itself. My boyfriend has long been frustrated by my dependency on the platform, so before I met him in Puerto Rico for vacation late last year, I deleted the Twitter app from my phone. I also did this last year, before my trip to write about Epcot Center’s restaurants, and it was great. After the minute or so it took the impulse to tweet about deleting Twitter from my phone wore off, I enjoyed a trip with less clutter and stress. I remember missing out on some events as they occurred, but I’ve since forgotten what they were.
Getting rid of Twitter this time was even easier. It made me feel like a kid again, looking out the car window and pondering the increasingly threatened green and organizations of strip malls and road kill. It’s easy enough to enjoy Puerto Rico’s astonishing beaches by merely existing on one, but it was especially great to do this without feeling the need to interrupt myself to make sure I didn’t just miss something that happened. My focus while absorbing the media of my choice—mostly longer form stuff like novels and movies—sharpened. I could sit through an entire film, read 50 pages of a book straight, without pausing to scroll and click and look at profile pictures and see who said what to whom and and and. (Deleting hook-up apps from my phone also does wonders for my concentration. Other social media distractions like Facebook and Instagram have never quite commanded my attention and life the way Twitter has.)
At one point during our trip, my boyfriend showed me Jacques Tati’s 1967 movie about then-modern technology Playtime, which took about eight years to conceive and execute. The level of detail is astonishing (Tati essentially built a mini-town that he choreographed hundreds of extras to flutter through). The commitment is admirable. (Tati ended up declaring bankruptcy when the film failed commercially.) The evident patience is at odds with the frenetic way of thinking that Twitter promotes. But beyond how Tati’s old-fashionedness might as well be sorcery to contemporary sensibilities is the fact that in all the hours I spent doing what amounted to very little on Twitter, I could have taken two to feed my brain with something as wondrous as that film. It would have simply been time better spent. My primary failure has been one of curation.
And so, avoiding Twitter went from vacation-maximizing strategy to life plan in the form of a New Year’s resolution. I’m not quitting it entirely—it’s impossible for me not to see tweets from time to time, given that I work on the internet. Sometimes I still find myself getting sucked down a hole of bad tweets after I read one (tweets are like toxic potato chips). But generally speaking, it’s fully possible for me to pay less attention to them, let other people handle the mourning and backlash to mourning and reporting on stars’ responses to Twitter users’ responses to the star’s responses to other people’s responses to the star’s friends. I feel liberated from the idea that part of my job and, by extension, purpose for being on this planet is to pay close attention to what’s happening on Twitter.
Just rereading that sentence, I think, makes it clear that I was heading down the wrong path, my eyes glued to my phone. Now my focus is on looking up.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
Rich Juzwiak is a senior writer for Gawker. Email him at email@example.com.